SEATTLE — Oh, what a difference a year makes.
In August 2001, the Strokes played to a tight swarm of smug hipsters at the Crocodile Café for chump change. Monday night, a barely contained sold-out crowd crammed into the cavernous Paramount Theatre to see their newly-minted idols, thrilled if their non-scalped tickets set them back only $30. What had begun three years ago as a small, persistent buzz had now reached its culmination: suburban teens decked out in their Hot Topic finest, screaming like banshees for Julian, Nikolai, Fabrizio, Albert and Nick.
Alas, they’d just about shout themselves hoarse before finally getting to see the objects of their affection; a near-hour long wait stood between openers Rooney and Sloan and the headliners. All was forgotten, however, once the men of the hour appeared, though it became clear what had kept them (or at the very least, kept singer Julian Casablancas): massive ingestion of fermented beverages.
Casablancas burst onto the stage appearing almost too inebriated to stand, though he fought the laws of gravity admirably, only stopping occasionally to throw himself into the arms of the front row or perform his signature drunken-scarecrow shuffle. Amazingly, for all his incoherent between-song ramblings (“F—in’, what’s up, f—in’ Seattle? F—.”), the singer has never sounded better. His voice may just be one of the best in rock today: a deep, melodic Lou Reed/Billy Idol hybrid heavy with the promise of sex, sin and the kind of good times your mother would never approve of.
With little fanfare, the band launched into the not-yet-released “You Talk Way Too Much.” That, and other new numbers such as “Meet Me in the Bathroom” (which Julian introduced with the self-deprecating “This is some f—in’ new sh–. Go ahead and talk … get distracted, f—in’ whatever, sorry if you don’t like it”) are, stylistically, a perfect match for the tracks on debut album Is This It — the same instantly catchy guitar riffs, speed-demon drumming and melodic, world-weary vocals.
While clearly wearing the evidence of the bands that came before them — Television, the Stooges, and, of course, the Velvet Underground — on their leather sleeves (only Julian skipped the ubiquitous bomber jacket, appearing instead in a slim, elegant military coat), the Strokes have still managed to cultivate their own distinct sound. Guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., in particular, seem to revel in his rock star moment, constantly whipping out mini-windmills and taking gleefully to his solos on nearly every song, thanks to the steady backing of mad-Fraggle drummer Fabrizio Moretti and laconic bassist Nikolai Fratuire. The band (which also features guitarist Nick Valensi) ran through, in quick, note-perfect succession, “Someday,” “Alone Together,” the controversial “New York City Cops,” “Is This It,” “The Modern Age,” “Soma,” “Trying Your Luck,” and of course, the big hit, “Last Nite,” before winding down with “Barely Legal,” which just might be the best jailbait song since “My Sharona” (sadly apropos for the fresh-faced crowd).
After one more new one, “I Can’t Wait,” the band bowed out with the aptly titled “Take It or Leave It” before Casablancas strode off-stage, only to return moments later and fling himself over the barricade and into the audience for one last love-in. They would, judging by their shrieks of pleasure, very much prefer to Take It.
The first act up, power-pop quintet Rooney, managed to charm the still-arriving crowds with chord-heavy anthems, the unadultered energy of extreme youth and endearingly flopsy hairdos. Middle band Sloan were, somehow, much less adorable; huge success in Canada hasn’t translated to these shores, and it’s not hard to see why — a strong whiff of Spinal Tap silliness stunk up their otherwise standard, anthemic bar-band set.
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